Chazy Central Rural School Superintendent John Fairchild predicts another tough budget season ahead.
Unlike many other school districts, Chazy Central Rural School was able to avoid cuts to personnel and programs last budget season.
School officials are hoping for a repeat of last year as they prepare to draft a 2012-13 budget, but it won’t be easy.
Like other districts, they are faced with inadequate state aid and federal stimulus funds have run out. Complicating the matter are soaring energy costs and increases to retirement contributions and health insurance.
“The last couple years we have been fortunate with retirements and pretty good planning by the school board,” said Superintendent John Fairchild. “We have been able to avoid layoffs.”
Plus, all unions agreed to forego pay increases, to include step increases for teachers.
“We had a true pay freeze,” Fairchild said.
At the same time, last year, Chazy Central Rural School was hit with the largest percentage cut in state aid in the area.
“It was a challenge,” Fairchild said.
This year will be a challenge too.
“It is going to take everyone working together until we come up with a plan to keep what we have,” Fairchild said. “We may be able to come up with a plan as long as we work together.”
Like most school districts, Chazy Central Rural School has trimmed where it can. There isn’t much left to cut that doesn’t affect employees.
The 2-percent tax-levy increase limit presents a challenge, as well as the loss of federal jobs funds. The district is using that in the current school year and it represents roughly $180,000 in a nearly $10 million budget.
“That is a big chunk and it will hit us hard,” Fairchild said. “We used it to keep about five or six people full time.”
Retirement contributions and health insurance costs continue to rise.
But it is hard to tell how energy costs will impact the district. Chazy Central Rural School just completed a construction project that included updated windows, replacing heating units and lighting fixtures and other overhauls.
Those changes were not completely online until the end of last year, so it is difficult to estimate any possible savings at this time.
“We have to wait and see what the impact of that is,” Fairchild said.
It is unknown what the district’s state aid will be at this time, though if the trend continues it will still fall below 2008 levels.
Also, New York State allocated $800 million for additional funds for education this year and the following one, and it is unclear how that will impact the school. The first allocation disbursed funds equally throughout the state, which is not much help to rural, high-needs school districts.
“If this time the focus is on schools with higher needs, then that will help schools in this area,” Fairchild said.
“I think this budget year will be as tough as last year was,” he continued. “We have already thinned out what we can, and we made no cuts to programs and positions last year.”